Neural crest invasion is a spatially-ordered progression into the head with higher cell proliferation at the migratory front as revealed by the photoactivatable protein, KikGR

Dev Biol. 2008 Apr 15;316(2):275-87. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.01.029. Epub 2008 Feb 7.


Neural crest cell (NCC) invasion is a complex sculpting of individual cells into organized migratory streams that lead to organ development along the vertebrate axis. Key to our understanding of how molecular mechanisms modulate the NCC migratory pattern is information about cell behaviors, yet it has been challenging to selectively mark and analyze migratory NCCs in a living embryo. Here, we apply an innovative in vivo strategy to investigate chick NCC behaviors within the rhombomere 4 (r4) migratory stream by combining photoactivation of KikGR and confocal time-lapse analysis of H2B-mRFP1 transfected NCCs. We find that the spatial order of r4 NCC emergence translates into a distal-to-proximal invasion of the 2nd branchial arch. Lead and trailing NCCs display similar average cell speeds and directionalities. Surprisingly, we find that lead NCCs proliferate along the migratory route and grow to outnumber trailing NCCs by nearly 3 to 1. A simple, cell-based computational model reproduces the r4 NCC migratory pattern and predicts the invasion order can be disrupted by slower, less directional lead cells or by environmental noise. Our results suggest a model in which NCC behaviors maintain a spatially-ordered invasion of the branchial arches with differences in cell proliferation between the migratory front and trailing NCCs.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Movement
  • Chick Embryo / physiology*
  • Head / embryology
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics*
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / physiology*
  • Proteins / genetics


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Proteins